Let’s stop sugarcoating how to deal with holidays

Ah, Thanksgiving Eve.

There are always a million of pro-recovery, pro-love, pro-gratitude posts swarming around this time of year. These tend to include steadfast tips for enjoying the holidays, as if a 10-itemed list can accurately identify and provide you with all the answers to keep your eating disorder at bay at a time where your biggest vice- food- is what the entire day is all about.

I’m not knocking those lists. I’m not even knocking that advice. I dole it out to my clients on the regular. But here’s what we’re missing.

Yes, there’s family, and family is so important. Yes, there’s gratitude, and that’s even more important. We know this. I don’t have to tell you it.

While I appreciate the efforts to focus on what the holidays are really about, I find it dangerous and concerning to push down the reality of the food component, as if gratitude and connection with our loved ones will alleviate us from the stressors that come with our eating disorders.

Here’s the thing. Food is always going to be here to stay. Food is social glue. Food is there multiple times a day, in every setting, and is necessary for, you know, living. And I can rattle on and on about how we can’t change situations, how we just need to accept that fact, how we can’t let it defeat us. And while all that is true, we also cannot deny that Thanksgiving and the holidays alike can be kryptonite.

My piece.

I love my family. I fucking love gratitude. And for about ten years, I hated holidays surrounding food. I still struggle with them.  My point is, they are not mutually exclusive. Any holiday around food, no matter how actively I practice recovery, brings up some anxieties, desires to engage in old behaviors whether it be overeating or undereating, and general discomfort. I spent many dinners judging the plates of others, keeping score of how “good” I was doing until I inevitably “fucked up” and swore myself I’d start over again tomorrow. I can remember my weight on most Thanksgiving mornings, and most of the Fridays after. I can remember which Thanksgivings became full-pie, midnight binges and which ones entailed daylong fasts until I “allowed” myself a few bites.

This year, I’m doing two Thanksgivings. This year, like every year, there will be a lot of food. Food that “feels” scary and unsafe. Food that I don’t eat everyday. Food that has the capacity to create anxieties and stressors that, even when I know are irrational, suck to have.

I consider myself in a high phase of recovery. I am relatively happy with my body, the way I eat, and how I take care of myself. It’s not perfect. Far from it, but part of the recovery is also accepting the imperfections. With that said, the fall-winter season is still difficult.

I’m not here to write lengthy advice today. You’ve probably seen all the cliched suggestions, anyway. There is no right advice for navigating tomorrow, except for the notion that it’s one day, and one day never has and never will define us and our recoveries.

My only advice for you all tomorrrow? Don’t guilt yourself if you can’t fully stay present with your friends, family, and gratitude. It’s not always that easy, and I’m applying that same forgiveness to myself. Just do your best, reflect afterwards, and know that you’re chugging along, doing what needs to be done. There are no real mistakes, only lessons along the way.

 

 

It feels good to write to you again.

Dear Bee,

It feels good to write to you again, and when I say YOU, I mean Bee. I mean the reason this whole blog started two and a half years ago. It has been awhile- talking to the inner voice inside my head, the Eating Disorder pathology that once had such a hold over me.

You come around on holidays, and you were in full-force this past Fourth of July. Having an action plan is obviously important, but that doesn’t make it foolproof. I did the best I could, and I know that is all I can ask of myself. I could sit and complicate every meal I consumed, every pound I may or may not have gained, but it’s not worth the obsession. I did the best I could. 

You’ve been weird lately. I just see you everywhere, more than I’ve had before, in every client I work with. You are addiction. You are compulsion. You are depression and anxiety and paranoia wrapped into one self-destructive voice. YOU may be an eating disorder, but your logic and intensity manifests in infinite souls, like a parasite leeching onto its vulnerable, unsuspecting host. It rarely triggers me in a negative way- instead it fascinates me. How could I have ever thought I was alone with my suffering?

That and I’m working with eating disorders in treatment now. A few of my clients show signs- it’s not their primary diagnoses, but issues with food and body image, as we all know, coincide with issues with any trauma, addiction, or mental health issue.

In other words, you are everywhere.

I feel like I have a better grip on you than I’ve ever had, but that’s not to say you don’t throw me for a loophole. Like the other day, for instance, when I just felt obese. When you kept telling me how hideous and disgusting my legs looked, how round and protruded my stomach was, how ugly I must be. And there was another time where I thought I looked really great and spent a long time getting ready only to see a picture of myself and hone in RIGHT ON my body.

Body dysmorphia in recovery is weird. Sometimes I feel tiny and petite and other times I feel massive. And sometimes I just feel normal. Oh, and that’s my favorite! What the fuck is normal? I’m normal weight, but what does that even mean?  Depending on what you need for me that day, you contort my body.

Recovery isn’t as Eating Disordered focused as it once was. Recovery has become more about total integration of self, about incorporating positive affirmations, self-love, confidence, and self-care. Recovery has become about letting go of perfectionism and control, two your accomplices and my former best friends.

My stress level has gone down. I’m mentally healthy than I’ve been in years.

But you lurk, and maybe that’s okay that you do that. Maybe you keep me on track, keep me vigilant, keep me aware of my surroundings and my powerlessness to the external around me. Maybe you are there simply to remind me just how bad it was and just how bad it can be again.

I don’t believe in Recovered, because Recovered insinuates some kind of tangible destination, some kind of endpoint. I believe in Active Recovery, the conscious journey towards wellness. There is no end to this, Bee. We keep trudging along, you and me, and I simply need you far less than I ever did.

You’re not gone. Maybe you will never be. I’m coming to terms with that, and the acceptance is freeing. You can’t dominate my life, but you can have influence. I have to recognize where you start and where I leave off. I have to continue mediating a life in recovery of mental illness. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and part of me wants to forget that I ever really suffered, but when I start thinking down that path, I know that’s simply YOU minimizing and rationalizing the hellacious experiences that you put me through. I know it’s YOU trying to tell me I was never sick. I know it’s YOU trying to feed me back into the vicious lies. I know it’s distortion. I sometimes give into it, but I’m only human.

Thank you for understanding, Bee. We’ve come a damn long way.

tides of December.

It’s been a month since I wrote last, and as usual, much has happened in the past month.

I have another part-time job. This makes three. My boyfriend got the dream full-time job. We have this thing called stability, and that’s weird, because I’m still transitioning from the academic world to the working grind.

I see a lot of clients everyday. It feels like an assembly line of therapy at times, and I’m too new in this field to think that way. But it scares me. Being unable to divvy my full attention to each individual simply because I have so many. Of course, I am still underpaid and overworked. And, of course, mental health is completely underfunded and underrepresented in nearly all sectors of healthcare.

But, I digress.

I know what I do is important, and I know what I do is meaningful. In addition to my children and adolescents, I’m now working with some really difficult clientele right now. The majority of them suffer from chronic pain or traumatic injury. The depression and anxiety is skyrocketed for nearly everyone I see.

I think hopelessness is the hardest symptom of all, and I think that only because I know what it’s like to experience that feeling myself. I know what it’s like to hate hearing anyone else tell you it can be any other way. Because, in your mind, it can only be hopeless. Because, to accept anything other than hopelessness means risking accepting a change you may not like. Hopelessness, in a paradoxical way, feels safer. It is a cushion of certainty, a guarantee that prevents us from the fear of crashing of burning.

The holiday season always arises mixed emotions for me. I am closer to my parents now that I have moved out of their home. Time with them is cherished and appreciated, rather than met with annoyance and angst. Yet, I tend to struggle with body image around this time of year, only because holidays center on food and food and more food.

And, I can use all the positive affirmations and visualizations and deep breathing I want, but there is still the five-hundred pound gorilla in the room that is masquerading as sprinkled cupcakes, and when my attention is on that, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

As I’ve said so many times before, it’s safer to focus on the craziness of the eating disorder rather than the craziness of the unpredictable day-to-day existence we live in. The eating disorder makes sense and it’s in my control. Nothing else is. Nothing else is. Nothing else is.

Nothing is in my control.
Nothing is in your control, either.
And, depending on perspective, that can be petrifying or liberating.

the hard days.

The hard days hurt.

They feel like square one.

They look like a wrecked battlefield. 

They taste like defeat.

The hard days make me doubt myself, make me loathe myself.

I wish they could go away forever.

And yet,

I feed into those hard days.

Pun definitely intended.

I let them define me.

I let them overrule me.

I let them get the best of me,

I choose to focus on the eating disorder,

Rather than focus on the emotions of life

I choose to focus on the food,

And how little or how much I can have of it,

Because it provides escape.

Because it’s the cheapest, easiest, fastest comfort I know.

And comfort-

Why am I still chasing comfort?

When the disorder is anything but? 

When the disorder is chaos and pain and absolute horror?

Why chase comfort

In a voice that only offers sugarcoated deceit? 

Why seek solace

In the hands of your greatest enemy? 

 

 

I wish there was a CURE button. I wish there was a black-and-white recovery solution. I wish I could stop the obsession forever. I can’t. I don’t know if I ever will. But I’m trying. I just hope it’s enough. 

Vanity over Sanity

I’m realizing now just how long I’ve been battling with these inner demons, with this nagging eating disorder creeping into my thoughts and mentality, with this constant up-and-down, twisted labyrinth of “half-recovery” and “full recovery” and “no recovery.” I give labels to everything, I realize, and that makes it so much easier to be harder on myself.

I don’t feel like I’m doing the best job in recovery. I feel like a facade most of the time. I’m still really afraid of gaining weight. I still have designated safe foods. I still alternate between bingeing and restriction on occasion. 

I haven’t chosen sanity over vanity. Looking and seeming better is more appealing than “feeling” better, and that scares me. Because that’s such unhealthy thinking.

An eating disorder snapshot looks likes this: waking up at a time that “feels” too late and instantly feeling guilty and unproductive; trying to delay breakfast as late as possible, making it into a quasi- breakfast/lunch type of meal, working out for the dutiful fifty-five minutes, comparing every other glistening body in the gym, eating a safe Greek yogurt and apple as a quasi lunch/midday snack, feeling like the day is still being wasted, overeating on ice cream as comfort, as familiarity, as a way to punish for being so useless. These are the thoughts and actions filtering into an ordinary Tuesday.

What if it continues to stay half-assed like this? What if I continue beating on myself? What if it’s another five years of obsessing over food and exercise and weight? Sometimes, I feel like it’s an eating disorder, and other times, I rationalize, telling myself that every fucking person I know seems to be on some kind of food/workout craze.

Is my eating disorder my individual, mental instability? Or is it a cultural phenomenon? I’m starting to feel like it’s more of the latter, like I’m almost part of the norm, like it’s strange and uncanny for people to be normal and neutral about their diets and weights. 

I continue to sabotage myself, though, and that’s the important part. Nobody can do this recovery for me, and these problems don’t just go away at the stroke of midnight or when a new day starts. How many “new days” have there been? Infinite, it seems. So many broken promises to myself; so many overarching goals about what I will eat, what I will weigh, what I will do for exercise; all these just lead to disappointment. I make goals unrealistic simply because if I succeed them, they were “too easy” to begin with.

I’m young. It is very likely that my body is the best it can and will ever be. I need to preserve it, love it, take care of it like I would take care of a young child. With patience, unconditional love, and acceptance…I need to do more of that. 

Myths Your Eating Disorder Tells You

You can get rid of me any time. I promise. This is just a phase. Just a diet. Tomorrow, you can start fresh. Tomorrow, you won’t be tempted or triggered by me anymore. I promise, you can eliminate me anytime you like. Why would I want to hurt you? I’m here to help. 

In fact, why don’t you look at like this? You need me. Without me, how would you have any sense of control? You wouldn’t. You would be completely overwhelmed by your own emotions and own existence. You should be thanking me for saving you! I am protecting you from the chaotic abyss that is the dark and scary unknown. I am rescuing you from external pain

And your body needs me. Without me, it would be even worse than it already is…if you could imagine that to be possible. It, too, would be uncontrollable. Large and grotesque and unlovable and undesirable…and, that, of course, is why you need me. To motivate you. To lift you up when you’re down. To get you the body that will finally give you the happiness and pride you seek. Your body needs my voice in order to keep it humbled, guilty, and structured. Your body needs me, because it cannot be trusted to make its own decisions. Imagine how terrible its choices would be! Your body is fighting against you! Remember, I am on your side.

Because other people will try to feed you lies and tell you I’m dangerous and destructive, you need to be secretive about me. Otherwise, they will just overreact and panic. They will treat you like a bad person; they will tell you that you are pathetic and weak. I’ll never hurt you like they will. Besides, they can never understand. They don’t understand what it’s like to feel comforted and secure…they don’t understand how important it is to have a good body and a sense of control. They’re clearly missing out.

Again, you can get rid of me anytime. This will be the last binge. This will be the last purge. Let’s just make it a good one, since it’s going to be your last, right? Better leave off with a bang! Wouldn’t want to second-guess your decision, right? Then, I promise, I’m done! I’ll leave! I would never want to hurt you. 

i mean, you’re not going to get to that goal weight, but I’ll leave. I get that you want your health and sanity and happiness back. Just know that you’re not going to be skinny. And therefore, you’re not going to be happy. Or healthy. Or lovable. So, the choice is yours, but I just want to warn you. We set our for a specific mission, remember? Do we want all that hard work to go unaccounted? Remember all those missed meals and passed snacks? Remember when I helped you resist those treats even when you were yelling at me, telling me how much you wanted them? That took effort! I had to do some powerful persuasion, and you clearly cannot appreciate my efforts. I’m glad you want to go back to the miserable way you were before me.

You’ve come such a far way. And now, now, you want to leave me? HA! How are you going to handle anything without me? You need me now! I’m in your mind, your body, and your soul. I’m your closest friend, as I’ve distanced you from everyone else. I’m a parasite, and you’re my host. We both need each other to survive now. We breathe the same air. You can’t just get rid of me so easily. You can’t just say goodbye, as if what we had meant nothing. Because, without me, you are nothing. 

I give you meaning. I give you purpose. And a negative identity sure beats no identity. 

 

I HAVE MY DSM-V!

I HAVE IT NOW!!!!! My adorable brother bought it for me, and it was waiting on my bed when I came home. I’m such a dork and acted like a kid on Christmas morning. It’s just so shiny and beautiful. 

Even though we won’t be using it in school just yet, I’m totally perusing all the new modifications and changes with ridiculous excitement. 

PS: The DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka, the therapist’s bible). 

PPS: THERE ARE SO MANY EATING DISORDER CHANGES. 

PPS: I THINK THEY ARE ALL POSITIVE AND MUCH NEEDED, and I will post a more detailed and highly unprofessional opinion on them later.

PPPS: I can’t believe how much I freakishly dig this stuff. It’s insane. If I wasn’t in this field, I don’t know what I’d do with my life. 

 

What I Think Recovery Will Feel Like

03/09/2012

I feel that if the problem hasn’t gone away by summer, I will seek counseling.
That is my promise to myself.

Dear Bee, 

That’s the funny thing about you. And it’s a lesson I’m grateful to have learned early on. You don’t just “go away,” because eating disorders don’t just disappear with willpower and blind faith alone. That’s why they are categorized as mental illnesses instead of diets. Mental illnesses instead of developmental phases. Mental illnesses instead of lifestyle changes. 

There is much scientific debate and controversy about this idea of achieving recovery or being “in recovery”, and my therapist actually asked me the other day, What do you think recovery will feel like?

I started, Well I know it’s different for everyone, to which, she replied, I’m not concerned about everyone. What do you think it will feel like for YOU? 

I don’t remember exactly how I worded it to her then, but it’s on my mind right now.

I think, first and foremost, recovery brings a sense of balance, in that it diminishes the preoccupied thoughts and obsession surrounding the disorder. It honors the gray area, blurring the rigid black-and-white thinking. Recovery offers hope, in a quiet whisper at first, that life can be more than an eating disorder or the absence of an eating disorder. And then, I imagine the hope just deepens into this warm security blanket, into something we don’t have to worry about losing so long as we keep it on our beds.

Recovery will always be a gift, and, because of that, I know I cannot take any of its miracles for granted. It ultimately comes down to acceptance: acceptance of what I choose to eat or not eat, acceptance for what I look or don’t look like. But accepting food and my body are just at the tippy-top of the surface. These are what I thought the eating disorder was about. However, it goes so much deeper: true recovery means having the WILLINGNESS to release perfectionism, let go of control, and essentially “grow up.”

You, Bee, are the representation of my neglected and fearful inner child. You are the manifestation of my negative feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. Recovery means knowing that your voice is a part of me. Some days, that voice may be loud. Other days, it may be quieter. Can I expect for it to disappear entirely? At this point in time, that seems unrealistic. For right now, I know you are manageable. I know you can be at any corner, waiting for me. I know what places, people, and things tend to bring you out of the shadows. I need to be aware of your presence, but more importantly, I need to have action-orientated mechanisms to cope with you during times of stress.

Recovery will feel amazing. It will be one of the hardest things I ever do, but the rewards will be worth any of the obstacles. The gratitude will be immeasurable. Recovery will bring freedom, in the sense that I will no longer feel any need to live a life driven by compulsion or anxiety. Recovery will allow room for mistakes, but recovery will simply view them as a slight flare, rather than as a slide to continue spiraling downwards. Recovery will allow me to deepen my relationships with myself, with others, and with the entire world.

Recovery will show me that I absolutely needed to go through every hardship, setback, struggle, helpless cry, angry plea, mindless rant, terrifying risk, impossible obstacle, leap and bound. Recovery will prove that every single one of those was absolutely worth it. 

Today, I choose recovery because…

Dear Bee,

I must admit, I miss you right now. I know what that means: it means that I am feeling somewhat indecisive about some major life changes, anxious about the potential unknown, and triggered by the moderate stress in my life. In other words, even though you are toxic and conniving, I miss your reassuring familiarity. You are instant happiness, instant distraction, instant insurance against being plagued and bothered by real world problems.

In recovery, I think it is so important to rewind and identify why now? Why today? During my first session, my therapist asked, why did you decide to start therapy NOW? I found this question strange but incredibly thought provoking. In my graduate school studies, I have learned that this is a common intake question. It enables therapists to gain stronger insight on where the client is in life, assess the severity of a situation, and determine his or her motivation for achieving change.

 So why now? Why today?

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Today, I choose recovery simply because I have some awareness of how recovery feels. I understand the gratification of freedom from those terrible, consuming “out of control” feelings of hopelessness. I know how to recognize my triggers and manage my intense emotions before I allow them to spiral downwards. Most importantly, I have been able to recognize that it is OKAY to have feelings, even when they are negative, and it is OKAY to let myself ride them out.

Today, I choose recovery because it means I am choosing to love and honor myself. I am finally extending myself the treatment and respect I would give to my best friend, to a family member, and even to a stranger. How sad it is that I often treat strangers with more respect than I give myself.

Today, I choose recovery because I deserve recovery.  I am NOT a “bad person.” I do NOT need to punish myself with food or exercise or restriction. I am more than a diagnosis and statistic, more than a number on the scale, more than an amount of calories consumed or type of foods eaten. I am a dynamic personality with a beautiful, shining soul, curious, vast mind and and  limitless heart.

Today, I choose recovery because it forces me to grow, change, and embody the fulfilled person I feared to be. This is not an easy path to travel; in fact, the course itself is very hilly and unpredictable, nearly pitch-black, with very few road signs. Sometimes, I slip and fall. Sometimes, I debate spinning into reverse. Sometimes, I wonder if I am even going in the right direction.

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Today, I choose recovery because it allows me to enjoy the twisted scenery on this crazy road. Every now and then (and it’s becoming more frequent), I see those slight beacons of light, those promising glimmers of hope. And when this happens, I feel an undeniable sense of content and serenity. The world feels aligned and balanced, and that’s when I know that no matter how impossible or scary or painful this process is, I will always choose recovery. Today and for the rest of my life.

And if I have to remind myself by listing out my reasons every single day, then so be it.

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Sunday Brunch

Dear Bee,

You know what’s awesome? When I can go out to fancy brunch like any other normal eater and just eat. Just indulge in the rich taste, enjoy food I would not normally consume, and sit and laugh with someone I deeply care about…without panicking over calories, portion sizes, or cleaning my plate. Knowing full well that I am eating more than I would under usual circumstances, but also knowing that I will adjust the rest of my intake according to how my body feels. Knowing that one decadent meal does not mean I need to restrict what else I may/may not eat…and also knowing that one decadent meal does not provide me with an all-access ticket to continue my meal into a frantic binge.

One meal does not define me. Food does not define me. Both are mere sources of objective energy. These, sources, of course, are highly distorted, thanks to the emotional attachment and connotations associated with eating in general. But, I’m slowly chipping away those stigmas with each breakthrough.

Today is good. I am happy to be alive and grateful for recovery. I feel refreshed and energized. Today would have been my “sixty” days of OA abstinence, but I did lapse once last week, so my technical number is different. Who cares?!?! I am more than a summation of “abstinent” days, and I can define my recovery however I damn well please.

This was not a “treat” or a “punishment.” This was simply a meal. This was a conversation where food just happened to be involved. This was living to be living, trusting my own instincts, and enjoying the pleasures of life without obsessing, dwelling, or worrying.

It feels amazing.<3